ENPR: Week of May 30, 2007

May 30, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 11b
  • While attacking Murtha, Republicans prove they are not angels either
  • Pelosi stands firm in support of two free-trade treaties
  • Five months of inaction from the new Democratic Congress
  • Republican talk of Lewis retirement
  • Edwards remains important in Democratic nomination race, leads newest Iowa poll


  1. The second week of the Senate’s immigration bill points up the bitter internal dispute within the Republican Party, which is not a mere conflict between President George W. Bush and such conservatives as Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). It has divided South Carolina’s two first-term GOP Senators, Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint. It has separated Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, from his normal conservative constituency. This is a serious intraparty problem.
  2. The call by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a leading presidential candidate, to eliminate the tax cut for the top 1 percent of taxpayers does away with the no-tax-increase deception of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Obama is making a bet that often has been a losing one for Democrats: that ordinary Americans do not mind taxing the rich.
  3. A dreadful performance by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on NBC’s “Meet the Press” deflates speculation that he could rise from the “second tier” of Democratic presidential candidates. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), only because of his strength in Iowa, remains in the “top tier” with Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
  4. Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) remains a strong Republican presidential prospect because of the weaknesses of the GOP’s “big three.” Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) remains anathema to social conservatives. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is having dreadful fund-raising problems. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), though rising in the primary state polls, is castigated as a flip-flopper (most recently on immigration).
  5. Contrary to rumors, well-placed Democrats are positive that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) will not run for the Senate next year in place of incapacitated Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.). National party operatives who have talked to Johnson on the telephone say he is improving rapidly, raising lots of money and definitely will run. Democrats fear Gov. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) would run against Daschle, but not Johnson.

Governor 2007

Earmarks: The continued use of earmarks to distribute favors on Capitol Hill is a comic tragedy that continues regardless of Congress’s party majority. The story of Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) and his threats against colleagues has underscored this fact, but it is only one part of the story.

  1. Even as he was calling Murtha’s bluff for threatening to withhold future earmarks from his district, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) had 10 appropriations earmarks to protect, at a cost of more than $45 million. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the scourge of earmarks in the House, had earlier written Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) out of concern that Republicans, instead of taking a lesson from the last election and fighting the newly Democratic earmark culture, were merely criticizing Democrats for creating confusing earmark rules and were seeking clarifications in order to take full advantage of earmark opportunities. Boehner did not respond to Flake’s query.

  2. Meanwhile, Democrats offered excuses for non-disclosure of earmarks, despite campaign promises and new House rules requiring it. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), Pelosi’s hand-picked Intelligence Committee chairman, blamed a mistake by the Government Printing Office.

  3. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) has gone from denying that the earmarks in his appropriations bills actually exist, to announcing that they will not be revealed until after House and Senate passage of bills. This would be even less transparent than the modus operandi of the previous Congress.

  4. The lesson is that nearly nothing has changed with the new Democratic Congress. Appropriators continue to look downward upon the taxpayer as if he were a being of lesser intelligence.

Trade: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) staved off the biggest intra-party challenge yet to her speakership last week as she stood her ground in support of two free-trade treaties during an uproarious meeting of the House Democratic Caucus behind closed doors.

Pelosi backed deals on Peru and Panama treaties negotiated by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), despite fierce protests by rank-and-file Democrats. The caucus was to consider Iraq, immigration and the trade treaties, but the debate over trade was so extended that it took up all the time. Pelosi and Democrats are still standing shoulder to shoulder in opposition to the more significant trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia coming up later this year.

Immigration: With Congress absent for the week, President Bush is trying to put rhetorical pressure on Congress — especially on senators — to pass an immigration compromise that no one seems entirely happy with. The problem for the bill is that by now, constituents angry about immigration are a much larger concern for legislators than is a lame-duck President.

  1. In addition to the problem we outlined last week — of various provisions in the compromise that please everyone and therefore no one — there is also the structural problem of intensity over the subject of immigration.
  2. The tone of the debate is just one more indication of this. It demonstrates that American voters in favor of legalizing more immigrants are far less likely to feel strongly about the subject than are the anti-immigration activists on the other side. The latter are a minority, but a very loud and motivated one. For the most part, they are unwilling to countenance the idea of a legal status or grant of amnesty for any illegal immigrant. These are the ones far more likely to give their lawmakers an earful over this week’s Memorial Day recess.
  3. Nearly absent from the immigration debate has been the normally omnipresent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid, who has not taken a public position on this year’s immigration bill, dropped in on a closed meeting of bipartisan senators led by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and asked whether he could help more by staying away or joining them.
  4. Reid is under considerable pressure because although he supported last year’s immigration bill, union opposition to this year’s bill is pulling him in the opposite direction. On the other side, hotel magnate and fellow Mormon Bill Marriott is pushing hard for some kind of guest-worker legislation. Marriott, a Republican who contributes to Reid’s campaigns, is pushing for guest worker legislation.
  5. Even the business community is divided over the legislation internally. Although the proposed work-visas work well for employers of low-skill labor, the tech industry fears that the new system will effectively remove from them the ability to bring in specific skilled foreigners of their choosing as under the current H1(b) visa system.

Inaction: After five months of Democratic control, Congress has enacted almost no major legislation and finished no regular appropriations bills.

  1. Their first major accomplishment, as of this week, has been to reissue the “blank check” to President Bush on the Iraq War, which they had complained about so vociferously in the last election campaign. Democratic literature for the base has tried to sugar-coat this fact, but fact it is.

  2. The new Congress has successfully renamed six post offices, four courthouses, a national park, and one of the buildings housing the Department of Education in Washington. They also extended the lives of two government commissions, reduced the membership of the Red Cross board of governors from 50 to 20, and authorized construction of 541 feet of road on a flood plain in St. Louis County, Missouri.

  3. Congress also kept the government going with two temporary spending bills, redesignated five Eastern European countries (Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Georgia and Ukraine) for security aid, and passed a bill on penalties for animal fighting that had passed in the Republican Congress last year.

  4. Democrats can be proud of a change in House rules and an increase to the national minimum wage. But celebration has been minimal. For one thing, they have worked and even voted to undermine their own ethics rules, the latest example being the case of Rep. Jack Murtha, to say nothing of their continued (and mostly bipartisan) use of earmarks to distribute favors. Also, the minimum wage bill came attached to the bill in which they capitulated to President Bush on Iraq.

  5. Democrats do not want to have their takeover Congress labeled as a “do-nothing” Congress, and for that reason, they are eager to enact more of their agenda. But they have been largely stymied, especially in the U.S. Senate, which always posed such a problem for Republicans before. Even in the House, Republicans have successfully used recommittal motions to divide the majority caucus

  6. The perception of inaction can certainly be reversed by Democrats in the coming year, but it will still have repercussions on majority Democrats’ work on appropriations bills this year. Congress now faces a heavy agenda to fit into a schedule interrupted by several recesses before the end of the year, and this means little time for a dragged-out appropriations process. Democrats will find themselves dealing from a weaker position if they try to strip certain provisions from the fiscal 2008 appropriations bills. Already, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has expressed public concern over the scheduling of too little floor time for the Labor and Health and Human Services (HHS) bill.

  7. In early May, President Bush leveled a veto threat against bills that fail to contain the Hyde Amendment (forbidding U.S. government subsidies for abortion abroad) and other restrictions on the use of taxpayer dollars in the HHS and Foreign Operations appropriations bills. With a difficult timetable for legislative action, Democrats may find themselves unable to put their own ideological stamp on such bills without crippling delays by Senate Republicans and a justifiably intransigent President who does not face re-election and has little to lose by letting congressional Democrats shut down the government.

House 2008

California: What makes Republicans think they can get serious candidates to run uphill races against incumbent Democrats? After all, even if successful, Republican candidates will likely find themselves in the congressional minority after the 2008 election.

  1. Republicans describe their recruiting hopes with the term “pent-up ambition.” The idea is that several long-Republican districts are now without a Republican incumbent, opening up the field to Republicans who have waited years for a shot at Congress.

  2. This is also true wherever Republican members retire. This could make California a major focal point in 2008. With one possible pickup and a series of potential retirements currently being discussed (in some cases just rumored), there could be a large freshman class coming out of the Golden State next year.

  1. Republicans do not want to see either Lewis or Doolittle resign, because they do not want to spend money now on a special election. The money issue will also loom in the general election of 2008, but unless that election goes as badly for the GOP as last year’s, Republicans can take heart in the fact that none of California’s congressional districts is considered competitive. If there is anywhere you would prefer to have retirements, this is the state.

  2. Representatives Ken Calvert (R) and Gary Miller (R) are also facing ethical questions — respectively over earmarks and a federal tax dispute — but they are perceived to be in better shape than Lewis or Doolittle. Still, as the 2006 election cycle demonstrated, this can always change with little notice.

Senate 2008

Texas: Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Tex.) will not challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) for the Senate next year. Lampson, having just undergone quadruple bypass surgery, is in an unenviable position because the seat he now holds is probably even more difficult for him to win than the state of Texas as a whole.

Given the extremely weak condition of the state Democratic Party, it appears more and more unlikely that Cornyn will face anything resembling a serious challenge.

President 2008

Un-Hillary: Former Sen. John Edwards remains important in this race despite overwhelming media attention to Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. After losing an early lead in Iowa, Edwards has shown he still commands loyalty in that critical state with a new poll showing him in the lead (29 percent) followed by Obama (24 percent) and Clinton (16 percent).

  1. The standard argument for Edwards over the other Democrats is that other candidates have shown warts that could foretell weaknesses in months to come, whereas Edwards has already been exposed to a tough presidential campaign. He brought little to Kerry’s 2004 campaign, but his weaknesses are well known. Unpleasant surprises are far more likely with Obama, and although Clinton has been subjected to much public scrutiny, she has never had to run a truly competitive race for office. Edwards defeated incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) in conservative North Carolina.

  2. Even if the Strategic Vision Iowa poll cited above is an outlier, Clinton’s distant third-place showing is cause for great alarm in her camp. Clinton’s campaign has even floated a trial balloon with a memo suggesting that she bypass the Iowa caucus. If she does, then Edwards is the candidate in the best position to take advantage. A victory for him in Iowa and then in his native South Carolina (which he won in 2004) would make him the clear frontrunner going into the multi-primary Super Tuesday next February.

  3. By February, when the nomination will be decided, there is expected to be only one un-Hillary candidate — either Edwards or Obama. Obama still has the upper hand in fundraising because his team understands the power of the Internet “netroots.” But after a poor performance in the first debate and a few extra gaffes for good measure, Obama has some Democrats worried that he is actually a lightweight. He still has time to right that ship, but the reality of the campaign has definitely caught up with the endless hype that surrounded him as late as April.

  4. Obama’s supporters are of two kinds. The first is the kind that strongly desires to see the first African-American President of the United States. The other is the kind that despises Hillary Clinton or at least fears her nomination, and sees Obama as a better choice. In the event that Obama drops out early in 2008, the second, much larger and more politically active group will go unanimously to Edwards, whereas the other group will split.

  5. Edwards is little affected by Democratic political operative Bob Shrum‘s recent criticism. Shrum, who had recommended the former senator from North Carolina for the vice presidential nomination in both 2000 (unsuccessfully) and 2004 (successfully), wrote in his memoir that he had been wrong both times in boosting Edwards.

Robert D. Novak


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